Expectorants do not prevent coughing but inhibit the accumulation of mucus. Coughing is the body’s natural mechanism to remove microorganisms, foreign bodies, and excess mucus from the airways. Expectorants help clear the airways during or after a respiratory tract infection.
Respiratory tract infections can lead to the accumulation of mucus in the throat or lungs. Coughing up thick mucus is difficult, resulting in a nagging cough and chest discomfort. Expectorants add moisture to the mucus to cough up excessive mucus effectively.
Coughing performs the following function in the body:
- Reduces discomfort from chest congestion
- Lowers the risk of infection
What are the types of expectorants?
Expectorants are classified as natural or synthetic. The primary ingredient in any expectorant helps loosen the secretions in the airways to make the cough more productive.
Expectorants for medicinal use are available in pill and liquid forms.
- Guaifenesin: The most widely used expectorant. It is the active ingredient of various medicinal brands, such as Mucinex (r) and Robitussin (r). There is guaifenesin present in numerous commonly used cough, cold, and flu medicines. Additionally, guaifenesin can be found as an active component in many over-the-counter cough suppressants, decongestants, antihistamines, and medicines for fever and pain. Guaifenesin is the sole expectorant that is approved by the FDA. Guaifenesin helps hydrate the mucus and decrease the stickiness of mucus.
- Potassium iodide: A prescription-strength expectorant that is prescribed during a lung condition. Chronic lung conditions can cause an excessive amount of mucus, leading to further complications. These conditions include asthma, bronchitis, and pulmonary emphysema. Potassium iodide helps loosen mucus, making it easy to cough.
Natural expectorants are an alternative when you are trying to clear chest congestion and loosen your mucus.
- Menthol: A chemical found in nature that is derived from plants of the mint family. Menthol is an ingredient commonly used in cough droplets (throat lozenges) and syrups. It can provide an icy sensation and may help ease the symptoms of a painful throat. One study has reported that menthol could ease the muscles of the airway. This lets more air get into the respiratory system to improve the cough.
- The extract of ivy leaves: A natural expectorant that is known for its effect on the production of mucus. One study suggested that medicines that contain dry ivy extract (obtained by boiling the leave in water and cooling it) could help treat coughs.
- Hydration through oral intake: No matter which type of expectorant you are using, drinking water is vital. Drink more water or make an iced tea or cup of tea to boost your intake of fluids. Be sure to stay away from caffeine and alcohol whenever you can.
- Steam: Inhaling warm, humid air can be beneficial for people who have a persistent cough. Steam can help loosen the mucus in the airway. Shower for a long time or use a humidifier to bring more humidity to your airways.
- Honey: Loosen mucus and ease your cough. Honey can be added to your tea or mixed with warm milk. Do not give honey to children younger than 12 months old because they are at an increased chance of developing botulism.
What are the side effects of expectorants?
Expectorants are usually safe and hardly cause any side effects if used as instructed. Side effects, if present, may vary for different drugs.
Some side effects associated with guaifenesin include:
- Fatigue (tiredness)
- Nausea and vomiting (if taken in high doses)
Chances of having side effects with potassium iodide are high and probably more severe. Some of them include:
- Abdominal pain
- Nausea and vomiting
- Acid reflux
- Skin rash
- Numbness in hands or feet
- Swelling or tenderness in your salivary glands
- Excess salivation
- Sore gums
- Brassy, metallic taste in your mouth
- Fatigue (tiredness)
- Arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat)
Natural expectorants, such as menthol, are usually safe to consume, except if you are allergic to menthol. The side effects may include:
Ivy leaf extract
Side effects of ivy leaf extract may include:
Taking expectorants along with other cold and flu medicines can cause side effects, which include:
What are the precautions and contraindications associated with expectorants?
Practice the following cautions while using an expectorant:
- Avoid these medications if you had any allergic reactions in the past
- Use caution while driving or using heavy machinery because it can cause dizziness or drowsiness
- Please read the labels carefully to identify any contraindicated ingredients present in the formulation
- Some combination drugs may have pain relievers, so be mindful not to exceed the recommended dose of pain relievers
- Pregnant or breastfeeding women should consult their physician before taking expectorants
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What to Know About Natural Expectorants. https://www.webmd.com/cold-and-flu/what-to-know-about-natural-expectorants
Top Do Expectorants Make You Cough More Related Articles
Children's Cough Causes and TreatmentsChildren's cough causes include infection, acid reflux, asthma, allergies or sinus infection, whooping cough, and exposure to irritants. Treatment for a child's cough include cough medicine for children over the age of four.
Chronic CoughChronic cough is a cough that does not go away and is generally a symptom of another disorder such as asthma, allergic rhinitis, sinus infection, cigarette smoking, GERD, postnasal drip, bronchitis, pneumonia, medications, and less frequently tumors or other lung disease.
Chronic cough treatment is based on the cause, but may be soothed natural and home remedies.
Cold and Cough Medicine for Infants and Children
The safety of giving infants and children over-the-counter (OTC) cold and cough medicine is important for caregivers to understand. While there is no "gold standard" recommendation for giving infants and children OTC cold and cough medicine for fever, aches, cough, and runny nose, a few standards have been recommended.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that OTC cold and cough medicine only be used in children age four years and older.
The American College of Chest Physicians recommend that these medicines only be used in children age 15 years and older.
The FDA recommends that OTC cold and cough medicine be used in children 2 years of age and older.
However, there is agreement in regard to which OTC medications should not be used in children under the age of four (or the age of two, depending upon which guidelines are used), and they are 1) certain antihistamines like brompheniramine, chlorpheniramine maleate, and diphenhydramine (Benadryl); 2) cough expectorants (guaifenesin); 3) cough suppressants (dextromethorphan, DM); and 4) decongestants (pseudoephedrine and phenylephrine).
Aspirin should never be given to infants, children, and adolescents due to the possibility of a rare, but often severe and even fatal illness called Reye's syndrome.
FDA. "Most Young Children with a Cough or Cold Don't Need Medicines." July 18, 2017.
FDA. "Use Caution When Giving Cough and Cold Products to Kids." Updated: Nov 04, 2016.
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